Sure, you’re probably aware that beef Wellington is named after the Duke of Wellington, or that the Arnold Palmer gets its name from the golfer also known as Arnold Palmer. But it turns out that there are more foods named after real people than you probably realize.
The reasons we don’t always know the stories behind these foods can be wide and varied. Sometimes, it’s because the name stems from a nickname for the person in question. Sometimes, it’s because the person is a historical figure who has fallen somewhat into obscurity over the years (even for decades or centuries, in some cases). And sometimes, it’s because there’s more than a little mythologizing going on, which can obfuscate the seed of truth at the center of the tale.
In each case, though, the backstory is as fascinating as the food is delicious. This trip into culinary history is one you won’t want to miss!
In the early 1940s, Ignacia Anaya García was working at a restaurant in Piedras Negras in the Mexican state of Coahuila when a group of Americans from the Eagle Pass Army Airbase came in to grab a meal. Unable to find the restaurant’s chef, Anaya got to work himself, topping a plate of tortilla chips with grated cheese and sliced jalapenos. When asked what he called the dish, he said it was named “Nachos Especiales”—“Nacho” being a common nickname for Ignacio.
It’s worth noting that some elements of this story edge into “legend” territory: As Matt Blitz observed at Today I Found Out in 2017, there are inconsistencies between retellings, including the precise year of the dish’s origin, the name of the restaurant at which Anaya was working at the time, and who exactly the customers were (Were they military? Military wives? Who knows!). This is true even in articles featuring interviews with Anaya himself. However, it likely isn’t due to any kind of intentional deception; it may simply be that some of the details have been lost to time, while others have been added in to flesh the story out a bit. The core origin tale still holds true, though—and today, nachos remain a beloved snack for many.
Take some vanilla ice cream, top it with half a peach, pour some raspberry sauce over the whole thing, and voila—you’ve got peach Melba, a dessert that’s been satisfying the sweet tooth of the masses for over 100 years. Created sometime in the 1890s—the year varies, depending on who you ask—it’s the invention of French chef Auguste Escoffier, who named it after his good friend, the internationally renowned operatic soprano Helen Porter Mitchell. According to Tori Avey of The History Kitchen, Escoffier originally called the dish pecheau cygnet, but renamed it pêche Melba (and added the raspberry sauce) when he put it on the menu of the newly opened Ritz in London in the early 1900s.
But wait—Helen? Porter? Mitchell? Where does the “Melba” come from? Easy: Mitchell’s stage name, Nellie Melba. Born in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia in 1861, the singer took the name “Melba” from her home city; meanwhile, “Nellie” has been a nickname for Helen since the medieval era. (“Nell” is a contraction of “mine Helen,” with the addition of the “-ie” at the end transforming it into the diminutive form of the name.)
The round bread roll with Austrian origins known as the Kaiser roll gets its name from the distinctive pattern on its top: It resembles a crown—ergo, kaiser, meaning “emperor.” The roll is believed to have been named in honor of a particular kaiser: Franz Joseph I, who ruled Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, and other states in the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1848 and 1916.
As Abby Walthausen noted at Extra Crispy in 2018, the Kaiser roll became popular in the United States courtesy of Charles and Maximillian Fleischmann. During the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia, the brothers ran a Viennese bakery where they sold a variety of baked goods—including the Kaiser roll, which was a particular hit. These Fleischmanns, by the way, are the same Fleischmanns behind Fleischmann’s Yeast, one of the foremost yeast brands in America.
Beef Stroganoff—the Russian dish made of sautéed beef served in a creamy sauce, often placed over rice or noodles—has many variations. However, it was originally designed to combine the flavors of two different cuisines in order to appeal to a particular member of the Stroganoff family—a wealthy family of Russian aristocrats who retained a great deal of power for several centuries.
According to Bon Appetit’s 2014 history of beef Stroganoff, the Stroganoff family had very old ties to the czarist government, allowing them to grow extraordinarily wealthy over time as a result. By the late 18th century, they had become “part of a Europe-hopping Russian aristocracy,” which resulted in Count Pavel Stroganoff, the child of Princess Ekaterina Toubetskaya and Alexander Sergeyevich Stroganoff, being born in Russia instead of France.
Historically speaking, Pavel wasn’t an especially notable member of the family, but his “French/Russian split,” as Bon Appetit’s Mike Lew puts it, was often reflected in his culinary tastes. Accordingly, his chef created the original version of beef Stroganoff using French mustard and Russian sour cream. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chef named the dish after his employer: Beef Stroganoff.
German Chocolate Cake
No, German chocolate cake isn’t named for its place of origin; it’s named for the type of baking chocolate originally used in the cake’s recipe, which itself is named after a guy named German.
In 1852, Samuel German, who was both a baker himself and an employee of the baking chocolate producer Walter Baker & Company, created a new kind of sweet baking chocolate. When Walter Baker & Company put it on shelves, it was under a name honoring its creator: German’s Sweet Chocolate. (Walter Baker & Company is still around today; owned by Kraft Heinz, the brand is now simply called Baker’s Chocolate.)
Meanwhile, the cake bearing Samuel German’s name seems to have originated sometime in the 1920s, according to Joy of Baking—but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it gained its somewhat confusing moniker: In 1957, a housewife from Texas, Mrs. Calay, submitted a cake recipe using German’s Sweet Chocolate she called German’s Chocolate Cake to the Dallas Morning Star. The paper printed the recipe in its June 13 edition—and the rich, three-layered, caramel, coconut, and pecan-accented dessert subsequently became a huge success with the general public. Eventually, the possessive “German’s” became simply “German,” giving us what we now know as German chocolate cake.
In 1908, Italian chef Alfredo De Lelio was running a small restaurant with his family in what was then the Piazza Rosa (now the Galleria Alberto Sordi) in Rome when he was faced with a problem of the utmost urgency: His wife, Ines, was having a difficult time recovering after giving birth to the couple’s first child. Specifically, she felt nauseous all the time—so, in an effort to make something that would both encourage Ines to eat something and, hopefully, keep it down once she’d eaten it, he made a pasta dish with a ton of butter and Parmesan cheese—fettuccine al triplo burro (“triple butter fettuccine”), he called it at the time. The dish not only got the job done, but also, Ines liked it so much that she encouraged her husband to put it on the family restaurant’s menu.
Although that particular restaurant ended up closing just two years later due to the transformation of the Piazza Rosa into the Galleria Alberto Sordi, De Lelio opened a new restaurant in 1914 simply called Alfredo. (This restaurant is still open today; it’s now called Alfredo alla Scrofo.) The butter-and-Parmesan pasta dish De Lelio had come up with back in 1908 remained on the menu, typically being made with whatever the house-made pasta happened to be that day. One day in 1920, when actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford visited the restaurant while on their honeymoon, the pasta of the day was fettuccine—so when they ordered the dish, that’s what it was. They, too, adored it and asked for the recipe and brought it home with them—and that’s how fettuccine Alfredo came to the United States.
What does the cultivation of a hybrid berry have to do with one of Southern California’s most notable theme parks? Well, lots, it turns out.
Horticulturalist Rudolph Boysen did much of his early work up north in Napa, California, but moved south to Orange County in the 1920s. There, he became the superintendent of Anaheim City Parks while continuing his berry cultivation efforts on the side. One of his creations was a cross between the blackberry, the loganberry (which, incidentally, is also named after a person—its accidental cultivator, James Harvey Logan), and the red raspberry. But although Boysen did fill out an application for his berry, the patent was never processed; furthermore, after suffering a terrible back injury in 1928, his experiments mostly came to a halt.
A few years later, George Darrow, who worked with the Department of Agriculture and had heard about Boysen’s berry from a rare plant nursery years earlier, went in search of the berry, enlisting the help of fellow berry farmer Walter Knott. Together, they found Boysen, who told them the only remaining plants of his hybrid berry were on the farm that had once belonged to his in-laws—who, it turned out, had sold the property long ago. The details get a little hazy after this, but with Boysen’s blessing, Knott and Darrow managed to get ahold of a few plants and began to care for them himself.
The berries thrived, and by 1935, Walter Knott had made quite the business out of it. He named the berry the boysenberry. And his farm? Well, Knott’s Berry Farm has been entertaining families in Southern California for decades.
Margherita of Savoy was born in 1855, the offspring of Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa and Princess Elisabeth of Saxony. In 1868, she married Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, and became Queen of Italy when her husband took the throne in 1878. And in 1889, the royal couple visited Naples, where chef Raffaele Esposito, owner of the Pizzeria Brandi, created a pizza featuring the colors of the Italian flag in honor of the monarchs. Topped with tomato, mozzarella, and basil—red, green, and white—the pizza was given the queen’s name: Pizza Margherita.
As with a few other foods on this list, this one’s origin story may be partially legend; as Italy Magazine noted in 2011, descriptions of a pizza recipe matching what’s now called pizza Margherita can be found dating back to at least 1866. However, even if the recipe itself already existed when Esposito made his version of it for Queen Margherita, he—and his pizza’s royal namesake—certainly helped popularize it.
With its distinctive, yellow and pink checkerboard pattern and its jammy, marzipan sweetness, Battenberg cake is a familiar treat for anyone who’s ever spent a great deal of time in the U.K. (or anyone who’s just spent a great deal of time watching The Great British Bake Off). Its origins are a little hazy, but the earliest known published recipe dates back to 1898, when it appeared in Frederick Vine’s book Saleable Shop Goods.
Reportedly, though, the cake predates this recipe—and this origin story is where it gets its name: According to food lore, the very first Battenberg cake was baked in celebration of the 1884 marriage of Princess Victoria—Queen Victoria’s granddaughter—and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Louis didn’t stay a Battenberg for long, though; during the First World War, he relinquished his title as Prince of Battenberg and changed his family name to Mountbatten in order to aid the British Royal Family in distancing themselves from Germany. However, the cake still bears his original name.
Salisbury steak isn’t so much a steak in the traditional sense as it is a sort of giant hamburger—a big ol’ patty made of ground beef and other assorted ingredients (they vary from recipe to recipe) served without a bun and covered with gravy. And, somewhat curiously, it was originally developed as a health food.
James Salisbury was born in 1823 and served as a physician during the Civil War. At the time, he believed that the poor digestive health (which mainly expressed itself as near-constant diarrhea) plaguing many a soldier could be treated with the right diet—and, according to Salisbury, the right diet was coffee and red meat.
After the Civil War, he continued to push the belief that vegetables and starches were responsible for a whole host of ills, and that a meat-centric diet was the solution. Accordingly, he introduced his namesake entrée, Salisbury steak, to the world in 1888. The original recipe called for “meat pulp” to be pressed together into “cakes” of about a half inch to an inch thick; then the cakes were to be “[broiled] slowly and moderately well over a fire free from blaze and smoke.” They were to be finished off with butter, pepper, salt, and “either Worcestershire or Halford sauce, mustard, horseradish, or lemon juice” to perfect the taste.
The thinly sliced raw beef dish called carpaccio, which is often served as an appetizer in Italian cuisine, may seem like it’s been around forever—but it’s not actually as traditional as it might appear. In fact, it wasn’t even invented until 1950, when Giuseppe Cipriani, then the owner and operator of Harry’s Bar in Venice, whipped up the dish for Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in response to her doctors’ recommendation that she avoid cooked meat for a time. Cipriani reasoned that while cooked beef may have been a no-go, raw beef ought to be just fine. Whether or not he was correct remains to be seen, but the dish was a hit.
But although the appetizer was based on carne cruda all’albese—a specialty of Piedmont in the northwest of Italy—that’s not what Cipriani called it. Instead, he named it beef carpaccio after the Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio. Why? Arrigo Cipriani—Giuseppe’s son—writes in his memoir Harry’s Bar: The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark, “Inspired by Carpaccio’s red-and-white paintings, which like most Venetians worthy of the name he had visited and admired at the Doge’s Palace, my father had on the spot combined a beef tenderloin with a white sauce.”
The word “praline” can refer to a few different things depending on where you are. In Belgium, they’re chocolates—the “life is like a box of chocolates” kind—filled with a sweetened paste made of hazelnuts or almonds. In France, they’re almond-based and look a bit like nut brittle. And in the United States—specifically in New Orleans—they’re a soft, creamy treat studded with pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds. (Meanwhile, praline cookies are something else entirely.)
However, the name may have originated with the French version. Although sugar-coated nuts can be found in a wide variety of cultures throughout history, this particular kind of sugar-coated nut is believed to have been created by the chef of the Marechal du Plessis-Praslin in the 17th century. “Praline” may therefore have been derived from the “Praslin” bit of the chef’s employer’s name.
“You are what you eat” might not be accurate for most people—but for some, it’s historically been truer than you might think. Consider that the next time you chow down on a plate of nachos!